Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tokyo Inferno... August 10-13, 2007

Tokyo was a blast. A blast furnace. I hiked part way to the station here in Hamamatsu and caught the little old lady bus to the station and was on the shinkansen early in the morning, and in Shinjuku's fabulous Hotel Kent (right in the heart of Kabuki-cho, near the Koma Stadium) by 2:30pm Friday.

My tactical objectives included field-testing my new Fuji F40FD FinePix camera under combat conditions, eating a steak at Outback in Shibuya, buying doughnuts at Japan's only Krispy Kreme in Shinjuku, loading up on Shakey's pizza buffet for lunch one day, finding Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro, buying books here and there and finally, getting shabu-shabu at my favorite little restaurant in Kabuki-cho. I'm happy to report I concluded all phases of the operation successfully. Long-term strategic results are pending, but we have no reason to be anything other than optimistic.

But I have to tell you... it wasn't easy. Evidently Tokyo was suffering under one of its worst heatwaves in history. Temperatures hit the mid- to upper-90s by 11am each day, with body-melting humidity. Lots of matted black hair and shiny faces greeted me everywhere I went, and by the end of my afternoon rambles, my shorts were sagging from sweat and covered with salt patterns marking high tide for my perspiration.

I kept myself hydrated each day, swallowing 6 500ml bottles of water on Sunday, but only peeing maybe twice all afternoon.

The skies over Tokyo were brilliant blue the whole time, with only a few puffy clouds in the late afternoon, and virtually no wind at all.

My first night there, I went to Blister and Tower Records in Shibuya, then went back to my hotel and had a shower before heading back to Outback Steakhouse. Saturday I spent in Ikebukuro looking for Manga no Mori to check out the rumor that they carry American comics. I found a Shakey's Pizza there, so I also had my pizza orgy-feast. A couple of tables over was a stocky, muscular little guy with James Earl Jones' haircut from the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian. A mini Thulsa Doom.

Manga no Mori was disappointing. I got lost several times trying to find it and gave up more than once before deciding bullheadedly to keep searching. After all, I was already at maximum sweatiness and stinkyness. I found a cool model shop that sells doll parts and clothing for customizing just about any kind of action or fashion figure you can imagine. And true to form, Manga no Mori turned out to be just a few yards and around the corner from one of the first places I looked for it before deciding I was in the wrong place.

Too bad about the American comics, though. They had an uninspiring selection of graphic novels and two long boxes of uninteresting schlock for 100 yen each. Second issues of 4-issue miniseries from a couple of years ago, and a scattering of Catwoman books with great covers but not much else to recommend them (unless you're a big fan of the character).

Still, it was worth it to explore a Tokyo ward I've never been to. So far I've visited Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando, Roppongi, Akihabara, Marunouchi, Asakusa, Ikebukuro and the suburb of Mitaka. I'm pretty handy in Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya and would make a pretty decent tour guide in certain areas there.

Saturday was also the day I made my Krispy Kreme run. I tried to find it Friday night, but couldn't. Saturday morning I did some online research at a Kabuki-cho internet cafe. I was thinking it was closer to the station's south exit, but actually it's behind the station on the South Terrace, which is across the street from the main part of the station.

Krispy Kreme is a little rectangular building set on a raised concrete terrace in what's basically a concrete desert. Direct sunlight kicking the crap out of everyone in line, the security staff handing out frilly little parasols. I wasn't too proud to take one to spare my bald head the terrible swelling and redness and pain that comes with each sunburn.

The line wasn't too long, the wait was only about 35 minutes or so and they gave away a free glazed doughnut to everyone in line who wanted one. And yes, the hot doughnuts sign was lit and the machinery was running, fresh dougnuts moving along the conveyers and taking on their shiny, sticky glazed coating while delighted doughnut fans watched and murmured, "Sugoi! Sugoi!"

They only let us in a few at a time, unless you wanted standard boxes. In those cases, you got to skip ahead of everyone and go right inside. A dozen glazed doughnuts was 1500 yen, if I remember correctly. And the specialty doughnuts were 1700 yen a dozen. They carry 15 varieties for now. Glazed, chocolate glazed, my favorite chocolate-covered custard and others. And they're just as sweet as back home, and tenderly melt in your mouth. There's no mistaking these for anything other than Krispy Kremes.

After showering, I went back to Shibuya and ate at Shirokiya where I tried raw horse meat sashimi. That's right- I ate raw horse meat. And it was good! It tasted a bit like roast beef.

Sunday was Harajuku Day. I went up and down Takeshita-dori snapping photos. I kept my camera on and anytime a Gothic Lolita or any kind of Harajuku fashionista in an interesting outfit went by, I tried to get a good photo. Some came out fine, but many included giant shadowy heads of people I wasn't trying to photograph, or else vague, colorful blurs. I developed a methodology, but it requires at least 2 people- a shooter and a spotter. More on that another day.

I ate lunch at Wendy's there, to honor my father. While Subway might've been more appropriate (considering how he loved their sandwiches) he and I had a tradition of eating at Wendy's, especially the one in Madison, Georgia on our way to or from Athens. While I was there, a contingent of Americans or Canadians came in, the curly-haired son in his three-button polo looking bored or else wiped out from the heat. His mom gently brushed his bangs with her fingers and spoked quietly to him, but he obviously wasn't having a good time.

Really, it's not a good idea to visit Japan in August. I highly advise you never to consider it, unless it's August or nothing. And especially stay the hell out of Tokyo. I was having a great time, but in retrospect I could also call the whole trip a mistake due to the heat and humidity. And the walking. Tokyo in August is like Disney World at the same time- you're hiking, waiting in lines, standing exposed to the sun with concrete and asphalt reflecting heat and sunlight directly into your face and you really need to be in good shape to bear it.

I took three showers Saturday and two Sunday. After my second shower Sunday, I walked to Books Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and bought some really great books about Japan and modern Japanese pop culture (one is actually a scholarly dissertation on the subject of Japanophilic literature produced both here and the West, and how our differening viewpoints on Japan affect each others').

One my way to the Shinjuku Tower Records, I stopped to watch a fun pop-rock duo consisting of a guy in Buddy Holly glasses on a semi-hollow body electric guitar and a thin, happy-looking girl in stripes and denim capris on a snare, high-hat and foot-bass. They had quite a little crowd going for their energetic, melodic sounds and I watched their show until the end, then took a flyer from the girl and bought a CD single from the guy, who actually used his smattering of English on me and thanked me profusely for watching. That's one thing I really like about Japanese indie groups- when you talk to them, they tend to be really friendly, forthcoming, down to earth and appreciative of your interest in their music.

Then I had my shabu-shabu. I'm getting pretty good at it; I didn't make a fool of myself this time (for once) causing the staff to come help me. Shabu-shabu is also a 2-person kind of meal, but I was able to manage it alone. Delicious, but expensive. I swirled my beef in the boiling broth, watched it turn gray, then added noodles or a bundle of mushrooms as the need arose.

An old man to my left carried on a peppy conversation with the cute servers while he ate a small steak and some vegetables served on a sizzling metal platter.

I tried to escape early Monday because I had plans with a friend of a friend. One of my ex-students has an American friend in-country, and as she was going to be busy with her boyfriend, she asked me to entertain the girl for one night. Our plan was to get in touch around 3pm, so I thought I had plenty of time if I left Hotel Kent around 10:30am.

First, the Chuo Line train was delayed (I wonder if someone jumped in front of it as sometimes happens in Tokyo). Amazingly, Thulsa Doom II was on the same platform, looking to hit Akihabara and the maid cafes there or else get the hell out of town the same way I was. He had a hardcase backpack and was wearing what appeared to be the same clothes from Saturday- a tee and jeans. How anyone could wear denim on an August Tokyo day, on the Chuo platform is beyond me. A man with a superior internal thermometer/temperature gauge I suppose.

And a really silly haircut.

The train arrived and we crushed ourselves into it, approximately twice as many people as could safely fit in such a space. I held onto one of the overhead rings, but I could've simply allowed the bodies around me to support my weight and I'd have been just as safely upright the entire time.

Just when I thought everything was going my way, all the shinkansen were full until the 1:23pm Kodama superexpress to Nagoya. The superexpress is super, but hardly express unless you're comparing it to the slower local trains. It stops at every station along the way, making it a 2-hour trip from Tokyo Terminal to Hamamatsu Station.

Which isn't bad. I always enjoy riding the shinkansen and actually prefer the slower ones to the ultra-fast ones that stop rarely. Only this time I was in a rush. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end... as it often does for me.

I took 245 photos with my digital camera. Some are shitty, and some are cool. I'll post the best of them in some photo essays when I get internet access again!


Audiovore said...

Well I just have to say that the F40 kicks ass. I have some awesome action shots from it. Did way better than I expected since I got it for being the best low light camera. And since you now have a proper digital camera, I suggest Zooomr to you. Its like Flickr except completely free and limitless.

Joel Bryan said...

Audiovore- Those pictures are indeed awesome! Really cool! What I love about this camera is how vivid its colors are, but like you I bought it for the low light capabilities. Thanks for the Zooomr advice, too!

selva said...

we enjoyed our school tour only because of this Alpine Peaks restaurant wow really wonderful,we prefer our seniors too to stay there